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At the San Diego Comic-Con this week, 343 Industries hosted a panel and a Q&A all about Halo 5: Guardians. Doing the talking was Halo franchise development director, Frank O’Connor. Of the topics addressed, perhaps most important were the game’s length and the graphical decisions made by the developers.
From the first to the fourth, the Halo games have always run at 30 frames per second, but that finally changes with Halo 5: Guardians, which will launch running at 60fps. O’Connor made sure to clarify that the decision was made not with the graphical fidelity of the game in mind, but with the user experience.
Some people are fine with 30fps; we’re not discounting that, but our simulation, the way your controller works, the way that you move through the levels; the way that four players move through those levels; they’re all actually tied into a 60fps simulation. So the reality is, if it was visuals, what we’d do is we’d just overload everything at 30fps; higher fidelity textures and lighting and so on.
The reality is 60fps is gameplay.
O’Connor believes the decision was the right one and notes that “when [players] go from [60fps] back to the OG version at 30 and sometimes less than 30, it’s kind of a shock.” And this isn’t to say the game looks drastically different from its predecessors; it just runs more smoothly. Before leaving this topic behind, O’Connor made certain their intentions were understood, stating:
We hope you love the game at 60fps, we hope that you think it’s beautiful, that’s up to you to decide, but it is gameplay. It has never been a question about visual fidelity but everything to do with experiential fidelity. 60fps is the speed you’ll move through the universe, not the speed we’re updating the frame buff.
From a mechanical standpoint, this gives both the player and the developer more space in which to act and react, specifically in the most action-packed moment-to-moment play. With more frames, developers can tell the player slightly more in less time, and the player gets a clearer window of opportunity in which to take action. And don’t forget how silky smooth it makes the whole experience.
One of the primary complaints from players of Halo 4 was that it felt too short. Players of the franchise have come to expect campaigns that take dozens of hours to play through, especially the seemingly never-ending leviathan that was Halo 2‘s campaign. Regarding this, O’Connor had much to say.
The reality is that length is a really weird metric because people play the game so differently, so I think about things like replayability and scale. It’s a much bigger game [than Halo 4].
Past installments had very, very linear campaigns which entertained well enough but did not allow for any meaningful choices to be made by the player beyond which gun on the ground would best serve them in the upcoming hallway. In Guardians, the campaign is designed for four players, people or AIs, to be playing at once. This means levels are designed for four people instead of the lone Chief. 343 was also sure to design a campaign that can be taken on in various ways that the players will choose. Beyond all this, the campaign promises increased verticality, opening up even more opportunities for level designers to craft memorable and dynamic worlds for you and three others to enjoy and explore. O’Connor expressed his thoughts on the scale of the game thusly:
It’s definitely, definitely bigger. And for some of the players in this audience, the [Halo] games do seem to be getting shorter, but that’s because you’re getting much, much, much better at the game as well. And if you’re like me, you’re going to grab a Warthog and drive it places it’s not supposed to go.
It’s currently longer for me right now; your mileage may vary, but for me, it’s much longer because there’s more places to explore and much more open, sandboxy stuff.
O’Connor’s point about individual experiences and playstyles was in line with things said by the game’s narrative designer, Morgan Lockhart.
If you like our story, you’ll definitely want to take this one slow. You won’t want to rush through it.
We definitely approached this story as a story of layers, so there’s the high level that you’re always going to see that’s going to be the driving story that you need to understand to appreciate the game. But then there’s a lot of narrative that you won’t find if you rush through it. But if you take it slow and look and explore, you’re going to find all these rich character and world details.
Everybody at 343 Industries seems excited and passionate about the game as a whole, and you can look forward to playing it on Xbox One when it launches this year on October 27th.